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Need Utility Bill Relief? Look to Albany ... and the Wind and the Sun

June 2, 2008

Albany, NY - Utility bills could skyrocket up 30 percent this summer, with Albany seeing some of the highest increases. Experts blame the hikes on rising wholesale energy costs. However, legislative action in the final weeks of the session could help some people offset part of their utility costs.

Lawmakers are working on "net metering" laws that would provide incentives for consumers to generate their own renewable energy. Laura Haight with the New York Public Interest Research Group says net metering can reduce demand faster than utility companies can increase supply.

"It'll take forever to get a new power plant built, or increase transmission line capacity, so net metering offers what could be the fastest and most efficient solution to reduce the load and get more power onto the grid."

New Yorkers who produce their own power would be able to sell extra capacity to utility companies. The Energy Association initially opposed the plan over concerns about providing customer credits, but has since taken a neutral position on the topic.

The Assembly has passed a net metering bill that includes provisions for wind, solar and methane power. The Senate has passed a similar bill, but it doesn't include wind power. Kevin Cahill, who chairs the Assembly Energy Committee, thinks a compromise is within reach this session.

"We're all very interested in advancing net metering in New York State. It is something that would allow individuals and small companies to begin participating in renewable energy generation. Especially in areas like New York City, where peak load demand is so high and there is no immediate answer as to how to address it, this could be the very solution we are looking for, in the short term."

Haight says it's expensive for utility companies to buy wholesale power during the summer to meet peak demand. That's something to consider when, at the same time, solar power potential is at its highest.

"When you think about all the available buildings and rooftops that could be soaking up all that sun and turning it into clean power, we need to jump start that energy development. Net metering would make that happen."

More information on the New York Public Interest Research Group is available online at www.nypirg.org/.

Michael Clifford/Craig Eicher, Public News Service - NY